BY FENG ZENGKUN, Straits Times
Singapore is home to the world's 10th richest pastor?
Last week, the New Creation Church rubbished claims by United States-based entertainment website Richest Lifestyle that its founding member and senior pastor Joseph Prince drew a salary of $550,000 a year and had a net worth of US$5 million (S$6.4 million).
However, there is no denying the extent of Mr Prince's reach.
The 51-year-old hosts a religious television show which, it is claimed, can be seen in more than 200 countries, and has been aired daily on several major American television networks such as ABC Family and Daystar Television.
The show is produced by the international, non-profit Joseph Prince Ministries. Set up in 2007, the group is independent from the church here and is headquartered in the US.
In a 2012 tax document obtained by The Sunday Times, the organisation said its daily broadcast could reach 680 million households globally.
And in that financial year alone, the organisation listed a revenue of US$27.6 million, most of which came from "contributions and grants". Of that amount, US$21.2 million was spent on the broadcasts.
The tax document showed that Joseph Prince Ministries had a profit of US$1.7 million for that financial year and net assets of US$11.7 million at the end of the year.
But Mr Prince, who was listed as its president, was not given any compensation from the organisation or any related organisations, according to the document.
He also goes on overseas speaking tours, and is the author of at least 20 books, including special editions and translations, and many CDs and DVDs. One book, The Power Of Right Believing, made it to No. 2 on The New York Times' bestseller list in the advice and "how to" category. The paperback version is listed at US$14.40 on Amazon.
Attempts to contact Joseph Prince Ministries were unsuccessful, and Mr Prince declined to speak to The Sunday Times.
But the New Creation Church's council also made it clear last week that he has not drawn a salary since 2009.
While the church regarded Mr Prince's worth a private issue, it added that he had shared with the council that his wealth was "substantially lower than the US$5 million that has been alleged".
It did not give other details about Mr Prince's finances.
Still, the church has been a fund-raising powerhouse, collecting $21 million in donations in a single day in 2010. This broke its own one-day records of $19 million in 2009 and about $18 million in 2008.
Its business arm, Rock Productions, owns and manages the $500 million, 5,000-seat Star Performing Arts Centre, located in the Star Vista mall in Buona Vista. Rock Productions also paid $10 million for a recreational and restaurant cluster in East Coast Park in 2001.
All these mark a remarkable rise for Mr Prince, who started the church with a few friends in a four-room Housing Board flat in Holland Road after they were asked to leave a traditional church in 1984 because of their open displays of worship.
He was unanimously appointed the new church's senior pastor in 1990, when its congregation was just 150-strong.
New Creation Church members, who number more than 31,000 today, described him as charismatic, insightful, and a refreshing contrast to other fire-and-brimstone preachers in Singapore.
Ms Wendy Oon, a secretary, said she feels "very relaxed" during Mr Prince's sermons. "He talks about the grace of God, and he helped me to realise that I don't have to do things to make God love me, and that His love is unconditional," she said.
Freelance scriptwriter Geraldine Wee, 34, joined the church a decade ago.
"When a friend passed me a cassette tape with his face on it, I was very wary because I thought the church would be some personality cult and not a proper church," she said.
"But then I heard him preach, and I was moved.
"He never says we need to give money to the church. The majority of his sermons don't even touch on money, and there isn't even a hint that we should buy his books or other things."
In a rare 2008 interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Prince said he dabbled in the occult as a young man before "supernatural experiences" opened his eyes to Christianity.
He also said "money doesn't have a hold" on him, and that he was humbled by his work and popularity.
"Every week, when I stand there for four services, once in a while I still wonder to myself, people are queueing up, for what? This is not Hello Kitty, you know."
Straits Times 26 Oct 2014